If the rumours doing the rounds in Manchester’s football circles are to be believed, Jose Mourinho is considering a move to take Zlatan Ibrahimovic back to Manchester United in January.
While the United manager has yet to confirm or deny his interest, there are many reasons for him to do all he can to get the Swedish forward back to Old Trafford, even if only for a couple of months.
From a purely footballing perspective, the tail end of Ibrahimovic’s United career in 2017-18 — when he scored just once in seven appearances after returning ahead of schedule following a cruciate ligament injury — suggests that his impact on the pitch would be minimal if he returned to the Premier League during the MLS off-season.
Ibrahimovic is also 37 years old. But 21 goals in 25 games for the LA Galaxy since he headed out to California in March offers proof that there is still life in the former Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain forward.
Yet the value of him returning to Old Trafford would not be measured in goals by Mourinho. The true worth of Ibrahimovic to the under-pressure Mourinho would be the Swede’s influence in in the dressing-room.
To some at United, it is not a coincidence that disharmony within the squad has become an issue since Ibrahimovic moved away.
It is no secret Mourinho is struggling to reassert his authority on some members of the squad, with sources telling ESPN FC last month many senior players have grown angry and frustrated with the manager due to his treatment of teammates, tactical decisions and negative demeanour around the training ground.
Ibrahimovic would not provide a miracle cure for the discontent, but his presence within the group during his 18 months at United was significant, with all players, young and old, regarding him as a leader. Even more importantly, Ibrahimovic acted like a buffer between the dressing room and Mourinho due to his long-standing relationship with a manager he had previously worked under at Inter Milan.
Since Ibrahimovic left United — with the departure of Wayne Rooney to Everton during the previous summer another important loss for the cohesion of the dressing room — sources have told ESPN FC disparate groups have formed, with no player able to fill the void left by Ibrahimovic and Rooney.
Paul Pogba is the most high-profile player in the United squad, but he has so far not been able to gain the respect that Ibrahimovic earned instantly because of his persona and career achievements. Alexis Sanchez, United’s highest-paid player, is regarded as a remote figure, lacking Ibrahimovic’s charisma, while others have formed small groups based on shared nationality or language.
Ibrahimovic also led by example, inspiring the club’s youngsters with his humility and dedication, as well as leading from the front when speaking to the media.
He was looked upon as the “cool older brother” at United, even by the likes of Pogba — the two players are both represented by agent Mino Raiola, so were already close — and his departure has created a void unforeseen by Mourinho.
United have learned how to cope without Ibrahimovic on the pitch, with Romelu Lukaku’s goals last season replacing those scored by Swede, but the ripple effect of his move to MLS is now being felt off the pitch.
If Mourinho remains in charge of United by the time January arrives (which is by no means certain) a move for Ibrahimovic would not be the craziest idea. In fact, it could be just what the manager needs to turn his squad of malcontents around.